Being Easter morning, Sprout was awake just after dawn, and snuggled with me for a few minutes speculating on what the day would bring. When I reminded him about the Easter Bunny, he tore off down the hallway to see what goodies were left behind. We're not big on candy for the holiday, but we did get him a chocolate bunny plus a bucket with some small cars and Spiderman action figures. But what was the first thing he retrieved? His book - namely the newest Otis adventure from Loren Long, Otis and the Puppy. Sprout came racing into our room, squealing at the top of his lungs, "It's Otis and the Puppy, Mommy! How did the Easter Bunny know I wanted this book SO SO much??!?"
If you haven't read the Otis books, you must check them out. Really. This is the kind of literature that sticks with kids forever, "instant classics", to use a very well-worn phrase. The plots are relatable, the stories just the right length to read at bedtime, and Otis is a character kids will instantly love. We've so enjoyed the first book, Otis, and the sequel, Otis and the Tornado. And this new addition to the series is no exception.
This time around, Otis has a new friend in the form of a puppy the farmer delivers to the barn one night. Otis and the puppy bond right away, when Otis braves the darkness and invites the puppy to leave the cold doghouse and join him in the barn. And the puppy loves to play games with Otis and the farm animals, especially hide-and-seek. But one day the puppy gets distracted by a butterfly, and while Otis is finding all the other animals, the puppy wanders further and further away. Pretty soon it's clear that the puppy is lost. The farmer and the animals, and Otis of course, search everywhere to no avail. At last it grows dark and the farmer calls off the search for the night - but Otis knows his new friend is out there, and scared, so he musters up all his courage and sets out into the dark on his own to find the puppy.
As with the other Otis titles, Otis and the Puppy wraps up with an ending that hits all the right notes. But for us, the real thrill about this one comes in the illustrations. Oh my heavens, is Loren Long ever a master of his craft, a real storyteller not only through the written word but also through his amazing pictures. The palette here is slightly darker than the previous Otis books, as you might expect for a story that's all about bravery and facing your fears, which in Otis's case means the darkness. And the interplay of light and dark, of shade and shadow, that Long creates is really spectacular. I just about can't pick a favorite spread, but one of the best for me shows shadowy trees, with an owl and squirrel in silhouette, and the beam of Otis's headlight casting just enough light to make out his cheery red paint. Gorgeousness.
The Easter Bunny absolutely scored a home run with this gift. I want to be clear about something -- Sprout's not some kind of crazy kid who only ever wants books and not toys (that would have been me growing up). But he knows what he likes, and he likes Otis. So the sight of this much-coveted title next to his Easter basket just about made his holiday. And as a book-loving mama, it pretty much made mine too.
Otis and the Puppy by Loren Long, published by Philomel
Source: personal collection
Sample: "One evening, the farmer gathered everyone up in front of the barn and gently placed a burlap sack on the ground. The sack began to wobble, tumble, and roll. It sat up, stretched to the sky, and went Arrhhr. . . arrhhr. . . arrhf!. What could be in there?"
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